Brothers and sisters...sisters and brothers. The sibling relationship is a complicated thing. I've been thinking a lot about what to say (or whether to say anything) about the crazy and complex love/hate/love relationship between these two tiny beings that I've been blessed with. To say that these two have opposite personalities would be a complete understatement, so it's no surprise that their relationship is a strange mixture of both their best and worst qualities. And yes, I know that it might seem crazy to devote an entire post and analysis to the relationship between a 3.5 year old and a 1.5 year old (seriously, they're babies, how complex can it be?!), but these two have such big strong personalities and over the top emotions that their feelings for each other are incredibly obvious and transparent. This may just be the only time in their entire lives that I know exactly what they're both thinking/feeling, so I'm going to take advantage of it. Plus, I see/read so many posts about siblings that always seem to get along perfectly, share generously and love each other unconditionally that I thought it was about time someone told the other side of the story. Things aren't always easy.
I'm not sure how clear I've been thus far about how these two get along. About a month after Mim was born, I wrote this post on how the new normal was taking some getting used to and how hard it was on Mac to share his parents with this new intruder to the family. Things have gotten better (as has his vocabulary), but honestly, not all that much has changed in the jealousy department. His jealousy issues are still there and don't seem to be going anywhere, while hers are rapidly developing and intensifying. Sharing your toys is one thing, but sharing the people you love the most in the world is a whole other issue. A hard one. Especially from the point of view of the parent.
As you may recall, Ryan and I took a very segregated divide and conquer approach to parenting the two of them for quite a while and even though we've moved beyond that (now that we're through the "survival" stage with a toddler and a newborn), the repercussions are still there. Mac is a total daddy's boy and would rather have Ryan than me for any and everything. While it hurts my feelings at times, I get to take some comfort in the fact that Mim usually wants her mama. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when they both want Ryan all the time (particularly right after daddy gets home from a business trip), but I think it's mainly because they both spend more time with me during the week. Or maybe it's because daddy's way more fun and gives them cool projects and makes them feel grown up, while mommy's always hanging around, forcing them to smile for photos and wash their hands and eat their vegetables. I get it. But anyway, the jealousy persists and whichever parent is wanted by one, is usually wanted by the other at the EXACT SAME TIME. Same goes for toys, food, drinks, shows, clothing, etc. Anyone with more than one opinionated kid knows this all too well. Most of the fights, arguments and aggression from directly from jealousy. So long as both kids are playing with their own things or have their own parent, all is right in the world.
You've probably also picked up on the fact that Mim is a total sweetheart and (for the most part) worships and adores her big brother. Mac is a highly intelligent, precocious, sensitive and energetic preschooler that feels ALL the emotions, ALL of the time. This kid can go from a loving, caring, concerned big brother that wants to protect his baby sister from the world one minute to throwing her to the wolves the next. The sweeter she is to him, the nastier he is to her. The less she wants anything to do with him, the more he lays on the sugar and makes her fall in love with him all over again. He's a master manipulator. I don't know whether to be worried or just truly impressed at his depth of his manipulation and mastery of emotional influence. On the other hand, Mim is learning from this devious genius and is starting to not only fight back, but use his own tricks against him. She's learned to throw fits to get her way with him and us. She screams/cries before he even gets close to her to ensure he doesn't take whatever she's holding. If he messes with her, she hits, pinches and bites him...then watches in satisfaction as he cries. She has picked up on his more conniving behaviors and has learned exactly how to get what she wants in true Mac-fashion. It's incredible to watch these two interact because they learn from each other and teach each other on a day-to-day basis. Their relationship is always evolving and growing.
Most days, their relationship swings from one extreme to the next within minutes. Mac can go from complete indifference that Mim's in the room to total jealous rage that she had the nerve to even look at one of his toys to protective and caring big brother if she gets hurt (so long as it wasn't him that hurt her). Mac's a typical (ok...possibly extreme) threenager with such a range of emotions, feeling and outbursts that I never know whether he's going to walk by Mim and hug her or push her into a wall. And neither does she, which means that she's usually on high danger alert at all times and will probably have serious trust issues her entire life. One minute he's growling at her for being close to him and the next he's hugging her because he just loves her so so so so much. He wants to play with her and wants her involved, but gets irrationally frustrated because she's a baby and doesn't play by his rules. He always wants to know where she is and what she's doing, but doesn't want her doing it anywhere close to him. It's a very confusing time for all of us. I'm really hoping that he'll emotionally chill the eff out a bit over the next few years and possibly give us a break from all the drama, but I'm not holding my breath.
Despite the occasional (daily/hourly) drama, for the most part, their love for each other is usually pretty apparent. Mim usually thinks that Mac hung the moon. You can tell by the look in her eyes that she loves him and wants to be just like him. She copies everything he does and wants everything he has, which he simultaneously finds obnoxious and flattering (rightfully so). Because their personalities are so different, it's easy to tell what she's doing on her own, as opposed to what she's doing solely because she saw Mac do it, which is pretty adorable. She's so impressionable right now and he's her exclusive role model (I'm not sure whether that's a really good or really bad thing some days). She seems kind of lost when he's not around (when he's at preschool) and can't wait from him to come home again. And as much as it pains him to admit that he loves his little sister, it's sometimes incredibly obvious by how protective and possessive he is of her. If she's not around, he talks/asks about her nonstop. If the neighborhood girls are showing attention to Mim, he has to step in and claim the privilege of her being his baby sister with hugs and hand-holding (which she loves). He worries about her if she's hurt or sick. He reads her books and tells her stories. He laughs at her silliness and tells us how cute she is. He looks out for her at the playground around other kids. He takes care of her and shows her how to do things and helps her get dressed. Sometimes they play together so well I just stare at them in utter disbelief and think it truly doesn't get better than this. But then he'll play too rough or she'll try to eat his trains and that's the end of it.
With two kids that have such different and distinct personalities, it's really hard for me to tell what is attributable to gender differences, what are the birth order traits and what are just due to the fact that they're different kids. Mac has a lot of the traits of the first born child (like me). He's a leader, he's determined, he's stubborn, dominate, jealous and highly motivated. He wants nothing more than the full and exclusive attention of the people around him. He has a hard time playing independently and wants to be at our side, with us, 1000% of the time. Mim is the baby of the family (like Ryan) and is sensitive and sweet, she's nurturing and caring, cooperative and flexible. She's great at independent play, loves affection, doesn't give a crap about what you think or say, refuses to listen to the word no, self-sufficient, loyal, fearless and easy-going. Obviously, some of these traits are really complementary and some of them are very much in opposition to each other. His fierce determination and constant need of approval is so different from her laid-back confidence and independence - it's truly amazing to see how the same two people can make two children that are so incredibly different.
Only time will tell how their relationship changes and evolves as the years go by. Brother/sister is a complicated, yet incredibly rewarding relationship and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't worry (a LOT) about whether they will love and respect each other and the shared life they lived. The sibling relationship can sometimes last longer than any other relationship in a person's life and they're the only people in the world that know what it's like to grow up in the same house, with the same parents and circumstances as you did. I want so desperately for them to be close, but I know that may take years (or decades). I hope they will always have a special place in each other's heart. As siblings, they'll be each other's first playmates and co-conspirators, role models and protectors, counselors and collaborators, sources of envy and objects of pride. I'm hoping that someday they appreciate each other for who they are; that they'll always look out for each other; and no matter what, they'll take care of each other. That is my Christmas wish.
What was your relationship with your siblings like?
Do you worry/think about your childrens' sibling relationships?